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Riparian Areas: Functions and Strategies for Management 5 Management of Riparian Areas The condition of the nation’s riparian areas represents the outcome of decades of local and basinwide land use, often with little understanding of how various practices might impact these valuable and productive systems. With an increasing body of scientific knowledge regarding riparian areas—their ecological processes and functions, their diversity at local and landscape levels, and their productivity and utility for a variety of human uses—the nation is now in position to protect, improve, and restore many of its riparian systems. This chapter outlines approaches for improving the ecological functioning of riparian areas—an opportunity for landowners, irrigation districts, watershed councils, professional societies, government at local, state, and federal levels and their associated regulatory agencies, and the public at large. According to Verry et al. (2000), “The acid test of our understanding is not whether we can take ecosystems apart on paper…but whether we can put them together in practice and make them work.” The restoration of riparian areas and their associated aquatic ecosystems has become a topic of intense scientific interest. For example, the experimental flood of the Colorado River in the southwestern United States in the spring of 1996 focused worldwide attention on alternative methods for managing and restoring river and riparian ecosystems (Collier et al., 1997). Reinstating flooding and overbank flows on a river where flow regulation has been in place for decades is now seen as a potential means for partially restoring fluvial geomorphology and riverine habitats for threatened and endangered species in this human-impacted landscape. Similarly, the initiation of restoration efforts on the channelized and flow-regulated Kissimmee River in south Florida is a major undertaking designed to restore 70 km of river channel and 11,000 ha of wetland over the next
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Riparian Areas: Functions and Strategies for Management 15 years (Cummins and Dahm, 1995; Dahm et al., 1995; Toth et al., 1998). The goal of this long-term project is to reestablish 104 km2 of river-floodplain ecosystem and return a more normal hydrograph to the river. These ambitious and expensive projects represent historic initiatives in ecosystem restoration; however, they are a small part of the challenges that remain in restoring rivers and riparian areas throughout the United States. Because degradation of riparian areas varies in areal extent, severity, and proximity to streams and other waterbodies, attempts at restoring these areas will entail more than simply understanding the workings of a narrow strip of land along a stream, river, or other body of water. Upslope and upriver land uses must necessarily be considered. Understanding the watershed context is often essential in undertaking restoration efforts that are targeted at improving streamside areas (Kershner, 1997). Unfortunately, although watersheds as geographic areas are “optimal organizing units” for dealing with the management of water and related resources such as riparian areas (NRC, 1999), the natural boundaries of watersheds (and their riparian systems) rarely coincide with legal and political boundaries. City, county, state, and federal jurisdictions provide a mélange of authorities across the landscape. Thus, comprehensive watershed approaches to riparian restoration, by necessity, will need to involve numerous landowners, a cross section of political and institutional representations, and coalitions of special interest groups. GOALS OF MANAGEMENT Strategies and practices that reflect a spectrum of goals will likely be needed for maintaining and improving the ecological functions of existing riparian areas and for improving their sustainability and productivity for future generations. This section identifies several broad management approaches that have different objectives and expected outcomes. Protection Protection (also referred to as preservation or maintenance) of intact riparian areas is of great importance, both environmentally and economically. It is distinct from restoration, which addresses degraded systems. Intact riparian areas represent valuable reference sites for understanding the goals and the efficacy of various restoration approaches and other management efforts. In some cases they are important sources of genetic material for the reintroduction of native biota into areas in need of restoration. For these reasons and others, riparian areas in a natural state warrant a high level of protection (NRC, 1992, 1995; Kauffman et al., 1997). As a management strategy, riparian protection may entail more than simply preventing human-induced alterations. For example, actions such as prescribed
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Riparian Areas: Functions and Strategies for Management fire, management of exotic species invasions, and large herbivore management may be necessary to maintain natural characteristics and functions and to sustain them over time. Because degraded riparian areas are so prevalent in many portions of the nation, protecting any that remain relatively uninfluenced by human perturbations should be a high priority. Measures to protect intact areas are often relatively easy to implement, have a high likelihood of being successful, and are less expensive than the restoration of degraded systems (NRC, 1992; Cairns, 1993). Restoration Definitions of the verb restore commonly include to reestablish, to put back into existence or use, to bring back into the former or original state, to renew, to repair into nearly the original form, and to bring back into a healthy state. These definitions point to the reestablishment of former conditions, processes, and functions (i.e., making healthy again). Although seemingly simple in concept, the restoration of degraded riparian areas is often a scientific and social challenge. In some instances, the natural or pristine conditions of a particular riparian area may no longer exist or may not be known with certainty. In others, multiple causes of degradation may have occurred over long periods of time—hence, cause-and-effect relationships that define existing conditions may not be well known or easy to decipher at either local or landscape scales. Restoration may refer both to the process of repairing degraded riparian areas and to the desired end goal of such actions, although the term is sometimes used to refer only to the latter. Thus, for example, NRC (1992) defined restoration of aquatic ecosystems as representing the “re-establishment of pre-disturbance aquatic functions and related physical, chemical, and biological characteristics.” It further indicated that “restoration is different from habitat creation, reclamation, and rehabilitation—it is a holistic process not achieved through the isolated manipulation of individual elements.” This definition has the stated goal of regaining predisturbance characteristics, which this report categorizes specifically as ecological restoration. Thus, a working definition of ecological restoration for riparian areas, based upon the above as well as upon definitions within Jackson et al. (1995), Kauffman et al. (1997), and Williams et al. (1997) might be: The reestablishment of predisturbance riparian functions and related physical, chemical, and biological linkages between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems; it is the repairing of human alterations to the diversity and dynamics of indigenous ecosystems. A fundamental goal of riparian restoration is to facilitate self-sustaining occurrences of natural processes and linkages among the terrestrial, riparian, and aquatic ecosystems. Ecological restoration of riparian areas results in the reestablishment of functional linkages between organisms and their environment, even though these
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Riparian Areas: Functions and Strategies for Management systems may be continually responding to the natural dynamics of various environmental conditions. Across the nation, there are many riparian areas where ecological restoration is possible. For example, riparian areas in forests and rangeland areas throughout the western United States represent likely candidates for ecological restoration if the adverse effects of historical or ongoing land uses can be significantly reduced, controlled, or eliminated. Success is more likely where fundamental disturbance regimes continue to occur relatively unhindered by human influence. Ecological restoration of riparian areas that border low-order streams or other small bodies of water is also possible where human impacts have involved relatively benign land uses. Tributary junctions of streams and rivers represent additional landscape locations where disturbance regimes often remain in a relatively natural state. In such situations, it may be possible to recover nearly the full array of riparian composition, structure, and functions that existed before significant human alterations or impacts occurred. Although ecological restoration may be an achievable and desired goal for some areas, it obviously cannot be attained everywhere. For example, permanent or irreversible changes in hydrologic disturbance regimes (e.g., via dams, transbasin diversions, irrigation projects, extensive landscape modification), natural processes (e.g., global climate change, accelerated erosion), channel and floodplain morphology (e.g., channel incision, rip-rap, levees), and other impacts (e.g., extirpation of species, biotic invasions) may preclude our ability to precisely or completely re-create the composition, structure, and functions that previously existed. Riparian areas adjacent to large rivers may represent a greater challenge than those associated with smaller streams and rivers because of the greater number of factors affecting flow regimes at these larger scales (Gore and Shields, 1998). Nevertheless, even in such situations, there are often numerous opportunities to effect significant ecological improvement of riparian areas and to restore, at least in part, many of the functions they formerly performed. Based on the above considerations and others, this report classifies as restoration those efforts that lead to the recovery of some of the previously existing riparian composition, structure, and functions. As shown in Figure 5-1, restoration represents a reversal in the decline of ecosystem health and movement of a degraded system toward its historical conditions and functions. Although the predisturbance composition, structure, and functions of the riparian area (i.e., ecological restoration) may not be the final outcome of a restoration effort, the primary intent of such efforts is nevertheless to shift a riparian area in that direction. This chapter considers many of the scientific and social challenges to be faced in restoring riparian areas that have been significantly altered or degraded by human activities. Distinguishing between natural disturbances and the effects of human-induced modifications to riparian areas is an important aspect of restoration. Understanding the values of society is equally important, as they will
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Riparian Areas: Functions and Strategies for Management FIGURE 5-1 Restoration is dependent on ecosystem structure and function. A primary goal of restoration is to redirect the trajectory of a degraded area, in relation to both its structure and function. Restoration refers broadly the moving towards the upper right corner. Ecological restoration is represented by the historic watershed condition. SOURCE: Reprinted, with permission, from Williams et al. (1997). © 1997 by American Fisheries Society. likely need to change and adapt over time if restoration efforts are to proceed. Because riparian areas represent an entire suite of organisms, physical features, processes, and functions, a species-only or single-process approach will likely fail to achieve a significant degree of restoration. For example, the reintroduction of an extirpated plant species into a degraded riparian area is likely to fail if the underlying causes of extirpation have not been addressed. Focusing on those human influences that affect multiple ecological processes is more likely to attain greater restoration of riparian habitat and species of interest. Alternatives to Protection and Ecological Restoration Across the United States, a large number of aquatic and riparian projects are implemented each year, many of them having “restoration” as one of their expressed goals. Although ecological restoration may be a nominally important objective of some projects, many others are simply altering aquatic and riparian
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Riparian Areas: Functions and Strategies for Management systems with little emphasis on understanding or attempting to benefit long-term ecological processes or functions (Goodwin et al., 1997); improvements in ecological functions are typically not specified nor necessarily expected. Terms such as creation, reclamation, rehabilitation, replacement, mitigation, enhancement, and naturalization have been coined to describe the wide variety of land management approaches (NRC, 1992, 1996). These approaches typically emphasize altering ecosystem components to serve a particular human purpose, but generally are not intended to restore the full suite of ecological functions that would normally be associated with a particular riparian area (Kauffman et al., 1997). Although these terms have different meanings to various disciplines (legal, political, and scientific), the appropriate characterization of riparian management options and goals is more than a matter of semantics. It is important to properly distinguish between a wide range of management approaches so that interested parties have realistic expectations regarding their potential outcomes. Creation Creation is the establishment of a new riparian system on a site where one did not previously exist; it is generally associated with the establishment of a “new” reach of stream. For example, the repositioning of a section of stream or river channel will inherently cause the “creation” of a new riparian area that may or may not be ecologically similar to the section of channel lost by such a repositioning. Often the newly created channel will be less sinuous than the original one and less likely to be hydrologically connected to former floodplains. In other instances, channels may have been unintentionally developed or created as a result of long-term land-use practices. As discussed in Chapter 3, conversion of native forests and grasslands to agricultural crops throughout much of the Midwest was commonly accompanied by altering field drainage patterns (e.g., tiling and ditching), such that new channels eventually developed. An extended network of intermittent and ephemeral streams has become established in many agricultural areas where they did not previously exist; many of these streams could support riparian plant communities. Reclamation Reclamation has traditionally been defined as the process of adapting natural resources to serve utilitarian human purposes (NRC, 1992). Historically, it often involved the conversion of wetlands and riparian areas to agricultural, industrial, or urban uses. More recently, however, reclamation has been defined as a process resulting in a stable, self-sustaining ecosystem that may or may not include some exotic species. The structure and functions of reclaimed sites may be similar, although not identical, to those of the original land (Jackson et al., 1995).
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Riparian Areas: Functions and Strategies for Management Rehabilitation Rehabilitation implies rebuilding or making part of a riparian area useful again after natural or anthropogenic disturbances. For example, the mechanical excavation and reconfiguring of an eroding bank could represent rehabilitation. Although the resulting bank configuration might assist in retarding subsequent erosion, its configuration and other properties might be quite unlike that of a natural channel. Restoration of predisturbance processes and functions is neither required nor implied in the definition of rehabilitation; rehabilitation efforts typically do not focus on reproducing conditions characteristic of functionally intact riparian systems or on meeting regional ecological goals. Mitigation Mitigation is an attempt to alleviate some or all of the detrimental effects or environmental damage that arise from human actions. Mitigation is commonly used with regard to wetlands—e.g., the creation of a new wetland is often proposed as mitigation for natural wetlands that are to be impacted by dredging, filling, or other human alterations. However, constructed wetlands seldom display the full complement of structural and functional attributes of the native wetlands they replace (Quammen, 1986; Kusler and Kentula, 1990; NRC, 2001). Mitigation with regard to riparian areas focuses on minimizing potential detrimental impacts from a particular human action. For example, where levees may be needed along a river to protect human developments, mitigation might require the levees to be set back some distance from the channel edge to retain some riparian functions of the streamside vegetation and to maintain hydrologic connectivity of the near-channel floodplains and side channels. Where rip-rap is to be employed along a streambank, mitigation might require that measures be taken to ensure that riparian plants can become established and survive along the structure. In forested systems, large wood could be placed in channels in an attempt to mitigate the effects of prior harvesting practices that removed all trees along streams. Replacement Replacement represents the substitution of a native species or ecosystem feature with an alternative species (e.g., exotic species) or foreign object. An example would be the replacement of native conifers or deciduous trees with non-native species. Sometimes the replacement can be structural; for example, rip-rap may be used where floodplain or meadow streambanks have begun to erode because land uses have removed streamside vegetation or reduced the ability of the remaining vegetation to retard fluvial erosion. Replacement ap-
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Riparian Areas: Functions and Strategies for Management proaches are generally narrow in scope and seldom successful in promoting a wide range of ecological goals. Engineered approaches that reconstruct or greatly modify a particular stream and its riparian system to meet specific human ideas regarding what they should look like or how they should function are also considered replacement. Such approaches are often employed in urban areas where significant alterations to a stream and riparian area have occurred and where the hydrologic regime has been significantly altered (e.g., where increased amounts of impervious surface contribute more surface runoff and higher pollutant loads to a stream). Although these designed systems may provide many benefits (e.g., stabilized channel morphology, permanent streamside vegetation), they seldom have the features of more natural streams and thus do not provide the full range of functions associated with natural systems. Enhancement Enhancement represents an attempt to accentuate or improve a specific component of riparian areas. Thus, enhancements may come at the expense of other components and may create conditions that are uncharacteristic of a natural riparian system. A widespread example is the employment of structures of various types and sizes in channels and on streambanks (e.g., log weirs, gabions, large rocks) to enhance fisheries habitat (e.g., Wesche, 1985; Hunter, 1991; Seehorn, 1992). These structures can alter streambank structure, sediment transport dynamics, and hydrologic connectivity with riparian vegetation, often resulting in disruption of riparian–stream linkages. Similarly, when spoils, rocks, or boulders are removed from streams and added to streambanks and floodplains to enhance local channel stability, conditions may no longer be suitable for the natural establishment of riparian vegetation or for adjustments in channel morphology in response to streamflow and sediment transport. In-channel enhancement projects are unlikely to provide long-term or sustainable improvements for riparian/aquatic systems (Platts and Rinne, 1985; Elmore and Beschta, 1989; Beschta et al., 1994). Naturalization Naturalization, an alternative to ecological restoration, attempts to accommodate watershed-scale human influences in environmental designs of channels by establishing stable, self-sustaining geomorphologic systems with abundant and diverse ecological communities that are fundamentally different from those that existed before. The concept of naturalization was developed for specific application to agricultural streams that have been significantly modified, often by deepening and straightening previously existing channels (Rhoads and Herricks, 1996). Where headwater channel gradients are low, as in the Midwest, such channelized and modified streams have developed relatively stable configura-
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Riparian Areas: Functions and Strategies for Management tions over many decades; the goal of naturalization would be to maintain that new stable configuration. Naturalization assumes that the pristine stream network may not be the best restoration objective for stream management because (1) adequate information on the pristine state of streams is not available, (2) environmental conditions in most watersheds are far removed from the pristine state, and (3) restoration at the watershed scale is economically impractical. Because most streams in agricultural settings are not regulated by dams or lined with concrete, they retain some of their capability to morphologically adjust to changing flow and sediment regimes, implying there is some potential for these areas to support other riparian functions such as habitat provision. Management that might be used to achieve naturalization includes not only vegetated riparian buffers (discussed later), but also off-channel wetlands, side-slope reduction of streambanks, increased stream sinuosity, and other practices that provide improved ecological and water-quality benefits (Petersen et al., 1992). The alternative approaches described above differ from protection and ecological restoration in their ultimate goals and consequently in the amount of ecological functioning that a degraded riparian area might eventually attain. While it is not the objective of this report to advocate ecological restoration as a goal for all degraded riparian areas, it is important to understand the trade-offs between restoring an area to full functioning vs. partial functioning. Much more important than the setting of a challenging goal (e.g., ecological restoration) is continual progress toward a more functional system. When conceptualized as a series of activities that improve both ecosystem structure and function, restoration can be monitored over time and at specific milestones. Box 5-1 illustrates the restoration of Bear Creek, Oregon—i.e., movement of this riparian area toward improved structure and functioning. Passive Versus Active Approaches to Restoration Once the necessary background information has been obtained for understanding the status, trends, and factors influencing a particular riparian area, perhaps the most critical step in undertaking restoration is to curtail those activities and land uses that are either causing degradation or preventing recovery. Such an approach is referred to as passive restoration (Kauffman et al., 1997). Removing human disturbances in degraded systems allows natural process to be the primary agents of recovery. Many riparian areas are capable of recovery following a reduction in or curtailment of human perturbations because the biota of these systems has evolved to reproduce and survive in an environment of frequent natural disturbances. In the absence of other types of management, natural disturbance regimes and ecosystem responses will dictate the speed of recovery for areas undergoing passive restoration (NRC, 1996).
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Riparian Areas: Functions and Strategies for Management BOX 5-1 Bear Creek, Oregon: A Restoration Case Study Bear Creek provides a unique opportunity to observe the evolution of a riparian area over 21 years of changing management. It also demonstrates the resiliency of functioning riparian areas to management alternatives and high-flow events. Bear Creek is approximately 1,000 m (3500 ft) in elevation and located in the high desert of central Oregon. Although annual precipitation averages only 300 mm (12 in), the year-to-year variation in precipitation is quite high. Peak runoff from snowmelt typically occurs in mid to late February, and summer thunderstorms are common. Livestock have grazed the Bear Creek area since the late 1800s; the permitted use in 1977 was 75 animal unit months (AUMs) from April until September. Surveys during 1977 revealed that the Bear Creek riparian area totaled 0.95 ha/km (3.8 ac/mile) of stream (representing an average riparian width of less than 5 m (16 ft) on each side of the stream) and was producing approximately 225 kg/ha (200 lbs/ac) of forage. That meant that if livestock consumed all the available forage and used 365 kg/AUM (800 lbs/AUM), 1.6 km (1 mile) of stream was required to support one cow for one month. As shown in Plate 5-1, by 1977 streambanks were actively eroding, the channel was deeply incised, and riparian vegetation was sparse. Flows were frequently intermittent, and runoff events contained high sediment loads. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) then changed the grazing rotation in the area such that in 1979 and 1980, the area was grazed for one week in September. From 1981 to 1984, none of the area was grazed. As shown in Plate 5-2, by May 1983, banks were stabilizing and the channel was narrowing and deepening. Sediment trapped by vegetation can be seen on the banks among newly emerging plants. Juniper trees in the floodplain seen in Plate 5-1 were cut down to see if this practice would affect willow reestablishment. (To date, willow reestablishment has been unsuccessful.) The large juniper indicated by the arrow was left, and it can be seen in the remaining photos. By comparing Plates 5-1 and 5-2, it can be seen that over the six-year period of controlled grazing and livestock exclusion, riparian vegetation increased, the channel narrowed and deepened, and channel stability increased. Sediment, trapped by vegetation, can be seen on the banks in the reestablishing riparian area. These results were the result of natural recovery of the riparian area once livestock were excluded. Active restoration techniques, such as channel grading and planting, were not used. During 1985, the pasture was divided into three pasture units, and controlled grazing was permitted from mid-February to mid-April. Vegetation was then allowed to grow to protect the stream system during the critical summer thunderstorm period and to provide livestock forage the following year. From 1983 to 1986, the channel continued to deepen and narrow, and nearly 460 mm (1.5 ft) of sediment was trapped on the floodplain because of increased riparian vegetation, which not only reduced channel scour but also reduced flow velocities and sediment transport capacity, as shown in Plate 5-3. Plate 5-4, taken in June 1987, shows the effects of a large summer thunderstorm and resulting flood event on the riparian area. Compared to 1986 (Plate 5-3), it appears that much of the riparian vegetation has been inundated with sediment. The main channel widened some, but it is still narrower than it was in 1977 (Plate 5-1), and the channel
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Riparian Areas: Functions and Strategies for Management and the stream banks appear stable. There are obvious sediment deposits on the streambanks. By August 1987 (Plate 5-5), the riparian vegetation was recovering rapidly and was stabilizing sediment trapped during the flood event, although some bare areas were still present. By October 1998, 16 months after the June 1987 flood event, the riparian area appears to have fully revegetated (Plate 5-6). The floodplain now appears stable and has trapped over 600 mm (2 ft) of sediment since 1976. By 1989, the increased productivity of the riparian area permitted grazing to increase to 354 AUMs, nearly five times the 1977 allotment of 75 AUMs. This reportedly reduced the livestock permittee’s winter feeding costs by over $10,000 a year. Plate 5-7, taken in August 1994, shows the riparian area during a drought. Because of reduced channel flow, sedges and rushes seeking water occupy almost the entire channel. The formerly intermittent stream has become perennial because of increased infiltration and moisture storage in the reestablished riparian area. By 1995, beavers had returned to the watershed, presumably attracted by the improved hydrologic regime and increasing riparian vegetation. This is another possible indication of improved riparian functioning, as beavers usually avoid streams in poor condition. The dam building activities of the beavers will further stabilize the stream and increase water storage within the stream system. Plate 5-8 shows a newly established beaver dam slightly downstream of previous photos. By 1996, the riparian area had increased in size to 3 ha/stream km (12 ac/stream mile), and forage production had increased to 370 kg/ha (2,000 lbs/acre)—approximately a 10-fold increase since 1977. Sediment deposition in the riparian area raised the streambed by 0.75 m (2.5 ft), and channel storage increased eightfold to approximately 9,400 m3/km (4,000,000 gal/mile) since 1977. Stream length (sinuosity) increased by 11 percent, and rainbow trout returned to the stream for the first time in decades. In February 1996, the stream experienced another major flood caused by the rapid melting of the winter snow pack. As shown in Plate 5-9, the flood inundated a large portion of the floodplain. When the water receded, however, little damage was revealed, as shown in Plates 5-10 and 5-11, taken two and eight months later in April and October 1996, respectively. The established riparian vegetation was able to resist damage from this flood, protect the stream channel from scour, reduce flow velocities, and trap an additional 13 cm (5 in) of sediment in the floodplain. The Bear Creek project demonstrated the potential of passive restoration in a riparian area long degraded by overgrazing. In this case, total exclusion of livestock from the riparian area occurred for several years, followed by controlled late winter–early spring grazing from February 15 to April 15 once most of the riparian vegetation was reestablished. Livestock were excluded from the riparian area at all other times of the year. According to the BLM project manager, the timing and duration of grazing appeared to be more important than the number of livestock in maintaining the health of riparian vegetation once it had been reestablished. In addition, the most important factor in riparian area restoration was commitment by the operator to observe the livestock exclusion and the subsequent controlled grazing. Photos and project description provided by Wayne Elmore.
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Representative terms from entire chapter: